By Karen Payton Holt.
The impact with the water hurt. It couldn’t, but yet… The rope around my ankle tightened as the metal tied to the end of it hurried down toward the sea bed. Thirty feet down, the rushing water brushed over my flesh like silk. Lifting my gaze, I watched the dancing frenzy of air bubbles stirred by the ocean liner’s propellers gathering like clouds of frost on the surface of the ocean.
The water amplified the thrumming beat of the engines, and I waited for panic to claw at my chest. They are leaving me behind. But the ice block of pain inside my chest remained still.
The torn fabric of my nightdress floated in fronds around my face. Falling deeper into the cold depths, my arms lifted above my head in a languid, graceful dance, as I greeted my fate. The rapid descent plunged me into darkness so thick I felt it pressing on my skin. I am dead. My name, dear reader, is Clarissa.
I came to rest, and my body, tethered by one ankle, resembled the ballerina inside my mother’s music box. It pirouetted slowly, the rising cloud of milk-white, silk skirts revealing the blood-beaded scratches on my legs. My breasts were bare, and memories of his hands made them burn.
I fought him. But…
Crossing the Atlantic represented an exciting adventure for me. The RMS Olympic was one of the White Star Line’s newest ships. Not many young ladies in 1911 had the opportunity to sail on an ocean liner. Accommodating over 2,000 passengers, it resembled a floating town. Spending six weeks under the eagle eye of Mama’s Dowager Aunt, Lady Maud, was a small price to pay for a chance to see New York.
Usually, excitement made sleeping in my single cabin hard enough, but tonight, it was the storm. The lights kept flickering. The boat lurched. At times it felt as though it fell from a shelf and hit the ground. ‘Pitching’ the Captain calls it.
When the lights went out altogether, I lay in my bunk and held my breath. A knock at the door dried up the saliva in my mouth. My voice croaked. “Yes?”
Pushing back the crisp white sheets, I felt my way across the cabin. I stubbed my toe and hissed. Why do people always stub their toes? ‘A young lady would wear slippers’, Lady Maud’s voice haunted me. I grumbled and continued forward.
“Miss?” The tapping of knuckles on wood came again.
“I’m coming…” I unlocked the door and opened it a couple of inches. In the glare of the lamp held high above his head, the cabin steward’s slicked-back hair glistened like oil. Pomade is a wonderful invention. I laughed at the thought, anxiety tying my stomach into a hard knot.
He smiled, but his eyes glittered like beads, and an uneasy feeling made my skin crawl.
“I told Lady Harrington I’d check on you. The storm… the generator has gone down…”
That’s not like Lady Maud. I braced my hand on the cabin door, slowly closing the gap. “I’m well, thank you, Cedric. I’ll just try and sleep.”
“If you’re sure, Miss.” He nodded. Taking a step back, he smiled. “Very well, Miss.”
The tension inside eased. I smiled back. “Goodnight, Cedric.” I pushed the door, welcoming the sudden smoky funnel of moonlight cutting across the cabin. At least I could see. Before the catch caught, the door slammed into my shoulder. I fell backward, pain shooting up my spine as I landed on my backside on the hard wooden floor.
The steward surged into the room.
I scrabbled backwards, staring up at him. “Get out…” The words were a harsh whisper, my throat strangling the screams pushing up into my chest.
“It’s okay, miss, I won’t hurt you.”
I heard the tight lie in his words. He hung the lantern on a bracket and shrugged out of his jacket.
Darting to my feet, I swung past him and lunged for the door handle. The door opened, and tears blurred my vision. My scalp burned as he grabbed my hair and hauled me backwards. His arm crushed my ribs as he clamped me tight to his chest, lifting my feet from the floor. I couldn’t breath as he pushed my face into the padded mattress of my bunk.
The cold leather of his belt closed around my neck. “Stay still, or I’ll choke you,” he said, arousal thick and humid in his voice.
The rest, you can guess.
The only part you, dear reader, need to know, is as I lay beneath him, the bruised feeling inside my belly burned like acid. The leather bit into my skin when he yanked it tightly around my throat. The ink black clouds billowing in my vision were a relief. As I expelled my final dying breath, his wet mouth covered mine, and I ‘saw‘ him. I touched his soul, and it felt like splintered glass: sharp, bitter, cold. He has done this before.
In the embrace of the freezing water, my body spiraled slowly, and fish brushed against my dead flesh. When would they miss me? What would Lady Maud tell Mama and Papa?
Time passed. I knew not how long. I closed my eyes and stopped thinking and feeling. The ice inside my chest felt comforting.
Cedric’s smiling face jolted me into awareness. Turning my head, I tuned in to the deep thrumming of engines. A liner. Passing overhead. I saw the row of cabin doors lining the passageway through his eyes. And I felt his excitement.
The moment I waited for had arrived. The jolt of awakening jerked on the rope and dislodged the rotting flesh from my ankle. My unfettered body drifted upward, gaining purpose as the water brightened to grey and then, finally, glittering blue. I felt the heat on my face as I broke the surface and lay out on the warm water, waiting.
A clanging bell sounded. “Man overboard.” The shout rang out, crisp and clear.
My body rolled in the rippling waves as the liner’s tender drew alongside. Shadow blotted out the sun as the sailors pulled me out of the water.
“Gently, man. She’s been down there a while. We need to preserve what we can. Identifying her will be tough.”
Warm brown eyes looked down from above. The voice felt like a gentle caress, and I recognized the dashing First Officer from my own passage on-board the Olympic. I remembered his warm touch when he danced with me at the Captain’s dinner. I like him. I smiled. He will avenge me.
The leather belt around my rotting neck hung loosely now, and, although the engraved buckle had corroded, the steward’s insignia and the initials C.D. remained clearly visible. He will avenge me.
Karen is an aspiring author and compulsive writer. She lives in England with her family, and when she’s not at work, she can usually be found under her laptop. Karen writes novels, and is hard at work on her ‘Fire and Ice’ series of five post-apocalyptic vampire novels in the horror/dark fantasy genre.